Show: The CW’s Gilmore Girls
Featured Characters: Emily, Lorelai, and Rory Gilmore
The older those of us who’ve grown up with Gilmore Girls get, the easier it is to appreciate the complexity in each of the women and their distinct relationships with one another. That wasn’t always the case as I know younger me favored Lorelai and Rory. However, the adult me can burst into tears at any point just thinking of how much Emily Gilmore wanted to be closer to her daughter but didn’t know how to get there. Then there’s the matter of just how profoundly Richard and Emily adored their granddaughter, Rory.
There aren’t many relationships in the world as profound as that between a mother and daughter. Since the dawn of time, families have had deeply complicated relationships, but perhaps that’s what makes it the most beautiful, messiest part of our lives. These are the people who have seen the ugliest sides of us and continue to love us boundlessly. Or at least, the genuinely good ones. Sometimes families are too toxic and too complicated to continue putting up with at the expense of one’s psyche. It’s worth noting intentions, heart, and a singular person’s agency in how they choose to continue sticking with family even when they’ve hurt them.
Gilmore Girls understood complexities, and it understood the vitality of a person’s agency at a time where we weren’t discussing it as extensively. Thus, in its seven-season run, everything the show does showcases that the three women will always have someone to lean on, no matter how tricky things get.
The Three Gilmore Girls, Always
Lorelai and Rory
While it’s worth noting that I’m not too fond of the fact that Lorelai Gilmore was more often a best friend before she was a mother, in the end, that approach does work best for her and Rory. And although we never really watched Rory grow up as a little girl as a single mother, it’s easy to believe that Lorelai did the best she could to give her everything she didn’t have.
Because ultimately, Lorelai Gilmore was both. Lorelai Gilmore was everything. All that she did, she did for Rory’s future and her own. And the heart of the series’ best yet worst time was the colossal fallout between the two of them.
What equates to a good mother, and how do Emily and Lorelai differ from one another? No two people discipline or love the same way, but there has to be a middle ground—a form that works for all.
A good mother should be a best friend, but not everyone has that kind of a relationship, and thus, if they aren’t, it doesn’t equate to flawed or even inadequate. Lorelai and Rory were best friends, but Emily and Lorelai could never be.
It comes down to the simple truth that life is unpredictable, and even those closest to us will disappoint us one day. Our imperfections are bound to upset someone, and our mistakes have consequences. Lorelai has always cared profoundly for Rory, but she did not stand her ground frequently with rules and regulations. She did not put up boundaries until Rory’s mistakes blew up in their face, and all that they’ve worked for was essentially tarnished. However short that time was, it’s what allowed Lorelai to understand her mother’s approach better and her own mistakes in the situation.
Further, it all comes down to the way people reciprocate adoration, and that’s probably the most challenging lesson any of us can learn. People weren’t talking about love languages in the early 2000s. And that’s essentially Gilmore Girls at its most delicate—each of these women loved one another with every beat of their heart, but because they had different ways of revealing it, sometimes it’d appear as though gratitude, admiration, and love even were scarce. That’s precisely the case with Rory and many of our frustrations with her character in the last few seasons. But ultimately, Rory needed the separation from Lorelai to understand who she wanted to be.
The rift between the two women was crucial to give them the space to question the approaches they’ve taken and the kind of relationship they want to have. It then resulted in the indefinite change in their relationship, which eventually came down to a balance between friendship and parenthood.
Emily and Lorelai
Moreover, since we’re on the topic of a fallout constructing an even more substantial relationship, it’s necessary to note that are no words for how much I adore Emily Gilmore’s character arc. Because mother/daughter relationships are often incredibly complex, it’s straightforward to see that though Emily appears to be constantly disappointed in Lorelai, the truth of the matter is that she wants so desperately to be close to her daughter, she doesn’t know how to. And this brings us back to the way people communicate their affection.
No two people, even those who share blood, will emanate love in the same way; therefore, though Lorelai didn’t receive the kind of affection she wanted from her mother, it doesn’t mean it was absent. Emily’s love for her daughter is a potent presence, and it’s that very reason why it’s so challenging to showcase it. Old money and present-day upbringings is a whole topic that can be explored for hours on end, but this strain in their relationship always made the series that much more riveting.
And it wasn’t until Lorelai began to understand how difficult it was to be without Rory that she felt Emily’s pain in her absence. That’s perhaps the most heartbreaking part of their story because history has a way of repeating itself, and we never truly understand our mothers until we become them (even without kids). It’s then where we feel the pain they feel when we worry them, hurt them, or worse, leave them. Emily is an extraordinary woman with a tough-to-crack demeanor, but Lorelai has always been her weakness — the daughter she needed to hold onto and love above all things whom she wasn’t always able to understand. Lorelai was her world until Rory was born. And that’s why it was so easy to love Rory the way she did even before they knew her.
Many of us hear from relatives that being a grandmother changes life more than when becoming a mother. Thus, whatever Emily couldn’t have with Lorelai, the mistakes she made, and the time she lost, she tried to do honor by Rory. And all that, in the most subtly brilliant route, taught her how to find time with Lorelai. There are plenty of impeccable scenes between the two, but what often sticks out is their final scene in the series finale, “Bon Voyage.”
The way Kelly Bishop touches on Emily’s exquisite and profound joy at the moment where she learns Lorelai still wants to continue Friday night dinners is one of, if not the most deeply moving scene between the two (until the phone call in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life’s “Fall”). Friday night dinners were always a way for the family to bond, and often she knew it wasn’t Lorelai’s ideal way to spend the time, but this tells her that it’s a desire now. Lorelai is no longer forced to do something to benefit Rory, but she’s doing it because she wants to spend time with her parents.
At that moment, viewers can finally understand that the love the two women share for one another has always been the force that’s enabled them to stand tall amidst difficulties, heartaches, and disappointments. Emily Gilmore is proud of her daughter, honestly and wholeheartedly grateful to have her in her life, and despite everything that transpires later, Lorelai knows this. The two of them might never giggle through movie nights, but when the time comes to surrender the heartaches that are suffocating her, Lorelai is going to call her mother.
Emily and Rory
Next up is the always fascinating relationship between Emily and Rory. As mentioned above, many older women have said that having a grandchild is so much more distinct than having a child. At that point in your life, you’re more aware of how to approach things to make the best of the time you’ve got with them.
Emily and Rory’s relationship was often stronger due to the communication they established, but it was always easier because of past experiences. It was effortless to be proud of Rory because, traditionally, she did things right growing up. Richard and Emily understood how to articulate their love for her, and they learned much of what was necessary because of her. It’s this very closeness they established that would later allow them to open up more and build a closer relationship with Lorelai. (As close as they can be.)
The Gilmore Girls are a remarkable example of what complicated families look like. There’s no dynamic in the world that’s truly effortless, but it’s the unique connections in which love is the foundation that makes relationships unbreakable. There will never come a time when we aren’t learning something. There will never come a time in our lives where we will not be surprised, ashamed, or disappointed by someone else’s actions and vice versa.
As human beings, our only objective in life is to be better than the person we were yesterday, all while being good to those around us. Emily, Lorelai, and Rory were, at the very least, trying to grow in love, and that growth allowed them to thicken their own skin and relationships with the rest of the world. The best part of Gilmore Girls is the subtlety in the transitions. While it was never bold on the surface, it was always unmistakable when taking a closer look. We were allowed to watch their past unfold into their present and disappear as they headed towards their future through each and every episode.
The series and these relationships especially authenticate that while there will always be troubles, their bonds between mothers and daughters will always be irreplaceable. Where one leads, the other will follow, and that’s the cheesy kind of beautiful thing that makes the Gilmore Girls special—through thick and thin, they bring out the best in each other while unveiling the worst to challenge and grow.